The RPS has scored a major success with its current exhibition in London which features the work of 89 female photographers. Brainchild of Vice President Del Barrett ARPS and project managed by Vanessa Ansa, the venue is just off the King’s Road.
The huge selection of work from the UK and abroad is the result of an open call which produced a variety of responses to the themes of identity and representation, including portraiture, immersive work and installations.
Hundreds of people attended the first night of the exhibition, which was opened by Emma Lewell-Buck MP. Emma is a great supporter of the RPS Hundred Heroines campaign.
This was her speech:
Thank you, Vanessa; your hard work has clearly paid off. For those of you who don’t know me, I am the Member of Parliament for South Shields, for those who don’t know where that is it is the bonny bit of coast between Newcastle and Sunderland.
I have been told it is rare that politicians are asked to open events such as this, I imagine that’s because we largely operate by spoken word yet, the visual is so much more powerful.
Pictures say so much more than words. Pictures appeal far more to people than lengthy speeches. Picture evoke so many differing emotions, and have the power to spur people into political activism, and act as an agent for social change, as the harrowing photo of the dead father and daughter at the US border on the front pages showed.
Pictures pack a bigger punch than lengthy speeches, so you will be pleased I am not going to talk for too long. I have always thought of photography as being the visual political.
So last year in the centenary of the suffrage movement I was proud to be asked by good friend Peter Hayes, who is a great Ambassador for the Society, to take part in the Royal Photographic Societies Hundred Heroines Project. The campaign was the brainchild of Del Barret, and asked members of the public to nominate their photographic heroines to raise public awareness of the many unrecognised female photographers around the world.
The campaign certainly did that making national news and leading to some of my high-profile parliament colleagues such as the Right Honorable Harriet Harman, Sir Peter Bottomley and Dennis Skinner signing an Early Day Motion I initiated, the first time in your long history that the RPS has featured in an EDM.
EDMs are a parliamentary statement used to highlight an important issue. It called on Parliament to recognise the important work of the RPS and the impact women have on the medium of photography; and encouraged people to nominate their own modern-day photographic heroines. All of this of course helped to raise the profile of the RPS in Parliament and beyond.
I struggled to nominate someone because woman’s photography is so brave, photographing areas of the world in conflict or so remote many of us wouldn’t go to, showing us the reality of life for women in these countries, shining a light on the poor and marginalised.
In the end I nominated Karen Robinson largely because her photos of northern teenage girls in ‘All dressed up’ resonate so strongly with me and take me right back to my own, thankfully undocumented, teenage years. But also, for her photos on the scandal of UK poverty something that is rarely photographed. These photographs should be essential viewing for any policy makers; they show the anguish of inequality, tenderness and love in the most difficult of circumstances.
This leads me to another of my photography heroines Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, who vividly documented the grinding and relenting poverty of Newcastle in
the 1970s and 2000s, showing the resilience of communities like mine. I was truly honoured when she asked to take my photo for the 209 Women
Exhibition last year in Parliament where for the first time ever photos of woman MPs covered an entire corridor in the Commons.
I want to thank all of the women photographers who have made me smile, laugh, cry and most of all think. Please keep being great, the gender and class inequality in your world of photography is one that is akin to my world in Parliament, as a working-class woman with no family lineage in politics I know all too well about the imbalance of women in a world dominated by men and how difficult it is to make your own mark when the glass ceiling seems too high to reach let alone smash, but it is possible and you have alleys. Del thank you for being a heroine and Vanessa for this amazing exhibition, and all the women in photography who are, powering on. Remember where women lead they lead for all of us.
Now I have been to enough launch events in my time to know that when I have been stood where you are, that the person speaking is the one stopping all the fun that stands between you, chat, nibbles, wine and in this case powerful photography so it just remains to say thank you for being here and helping us focus on giving exposure to the developing contribution of women to photography.
The exhibition runs until the end of July and is open on Thursdays from 12.00 to 19.00 and on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 12.00 to 18.00 at:
The Old Telephone Exchange
19 Mallord Street
Venue thanks to the generous support of Sloane Stanley.